A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Oden’s Day was full of woe

with 2 comments

So, Greg Oden.  Out for the year.  Again.

A million pundits have chimed in about this, giving their own eulogy for Oden.  Zach Harper called it a “Basketball Tragedy”, distinguishing it from it from “real life tragedies” because no one died, and I think that’s a good description, but it does it get at the crux of what I feel for Oden.

It’s one thing to have one big, bad thing happen, and then have to deal with your dream just not being a real possibility any more.  Personally, I think what Oden’s gone through is far tougher.  He’s essentially the modern Charlie Brown, having the football yanked away from him just before he’s about to kick it, again and again.  I think about how it would be for me in that situation.  Surgery is not fun.  Months of rehab is not fun.  And the added negative vibes that comes down on Oden each time there’s a setback for  him despite him doing nothing wrong…man.  This is a recipe for some serious depression issues.

Sports fans tend not to see it from that angle, and tend not to take the idea of millionaire athletes getting depressed seriously, but they should.  We saw in September Denver Bronco Kenny McKinley take his life after incurring a career-threatening injury.  Often times, doing well in their respective sport is the primary source of identity for an athlete, and when that gets taken away, look out.  With that said, people seem to be on their best behavior right about now.  While Oden’s often been butt of jokes these past few years, he’s mostly getting sympathy now.

What’s bugging me right now, is the idea that there’s a lesson to be learned here.  To be fair, the people I’ve heard debating this in the recent aftermath haven’t been that bad, and I doubt I’d feel the need to rant on this if it weren’t for what came before.  Because the 2007 draft had 2 superstar prospects in it, Oden and Kevin Durant, and because Oden has struggled while Durant’s become a superstar, it’s presented a natural opportunity for hacks to say “I told you so”.

-Bill Simmons used Oden’s injury issues to claim victory on his pro-Durant predictions when Oden  first started having injury problems.

-Colin Cowherd turned against Oden after Oden got off to a slow start when he finally got some NBA play.

-Jeff Ma most irritatingly told the world that he had consulted the Blazers to pick Durant based on superior college stats and Oden’s injury issues.

Look, Greg Oden did not have an injury track record at all like this before the NBA.  He had hurt his wrist, and there’s now talk about him having a hip fracture in 6th grade.  Okay that’s not nothing.  Certainly the Blazers needed to investigate everything along those lines before drafting him.  However, we are most certainly not seeing Oden getting chewed up by the wear and tear of the NBA.  As we all know:  Dude’s hardly played.  This string of injuries is not happening because he’s in the NBA, it wasn’t happening before, doctors didn’t see it coming, so all us basketball geeks should basically be stripped of having an opinion when any of us use it to promote our own opinions.

Durant’s superiority in college over Oden was never up for debate.  The argument for Durant never needed to rely on advanced statistics – the case for Oden was always based on potential and the rareness of someone like Oden.  This is never going to be a debate decided by statistics, so when Ma says he told the Blazers to pick Durant, I really have to question whether they even solicited his opinion on the matter in any serious way.  Certainly the fact that he would have evidently made decisions without considering potential or rareness of abilities but considering strongly a medical issue medical experts aren’t worried about doesn’t say much for him.  The fact he went public to promote himself at his old employer’s expense says even less.

Cowherd of course is Cowherd, and he’s constantly looking to make snap judgments about things that experts don’t make snap judgments about.  But I just keeping thinking, am I the only one who remembers Oden’s National Championship game against Florida?  Oden goes up against arguably the best college team we’ve seen since the Christian Laettner Blue Devils, and he looks like a man among boys tearing them apart on offense and defense.  The Cowherds of the world of course will say that that was college not the NBA, but consider those Florida Gators.

They had 4, 6-9 or taller guys who immediately went on to careers in the NBA.  2 of them, Joakim Noah and Al Horford, are now Top 5 centers in the league, and the other two are defensive specialists.  And they were all juniors and seniors with years more development and experience than Oden – and Oden thrashed them.  No, there’s no way anyone who knows basketball could reasonable say after 1 game of watching Oden play in the NBA he couldn’t be a superstar, when we saw what he did against a college lineup with a front court more talented  than most NBA front courts.

So when I hear people talking about lessons to be learned, I chafe.  To say that there’s a general principle here implies that if that there’s some guru who could have told you from the beginning something that would have made things turn out much better – and there isn’t.  Anyone who says otherwise is a fool or a thief.

I’m not saying I totally buy what doctors have been saying about all these injuries being unrelated.  At this point, when we yet another serious injury with Oden’s knees come out of nowhere, if I were an owner, I’d be erring on the side of caution and simply guess that there probably is a general weakness in Oden’s gigantic gravitationally-afflicted frame.  However, going forward, when a new big man prospect comes down the pike, I’d rely on doctors just the same as before, and if my team needs a big man, I’m not going to pass on the prospect out of superstitious fear.

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Written by Matt Johnson

November 19, 2010 at 2:28 am

2 Responses

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  1. Nice article, really enjoyed the read. I think that people are being way too harsh on the Greg Oden pick for the Blazers. I don’t feel that the Blazers made the wrong decision despite the constant injuries and unrealized potential of Greg Oden. It is going to be tough for him to come back and he may never be in a Blazers jersey again. You can’t help but feel bad for the guy as well as the Blazers, so hopefully he can come back and have at least a somewhat productive NBA career. Also, you think you could check out my blog cuz I really wanna hear what you think. http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/2010/11/19/greg-oden-was-the-right-pick/

    Chris Ross

    November 20, 2010 at 12:48 pm

  2. Appreciate the kind words Chris.

    Obviously I’m largely on the same page with you. I won’t go so far as to say it was the right pick though. It’s a completely defensible pick, but saying it was the right pick essentially says Durant would have been the wrong pick, and I can’t quite go there.

    When you have to justify yourself to your owner, it’s a lot more reasonable to explain why you did something than to explain that you were right when the results say you were wrong.

    mathjohnson

    November 21, 2010 at 12:27 pm


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